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Parents Can Help Kids “Read Like Rock Stars”

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Kumar Sathy, educator and author of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure.

You don’t have to be a certified educator to help your child read like a rock star. In fact, it’s easier to pull it off if you aren’t an educator. Why? Because traditional methods use for boosting comprehension can create a stressful, evaluative reading environment for children.

We’re all familiar with those boring reading comprehension passages followed up by equally boring multiple-choice questions. Multiple-choice tests are stressful, and for struggling readers, reading itself is stressful enough. There is, however, a way to help your child relax, read, and actually comprehend what is being read at home, and it doesn’t involve tests at all.

Parents who come to me feeling intimidated by the task of helping their children with reading comprehension often walk away feeling a great sense of relief by the time I’m done talking. Why? Because I suggest a shockingly simple initial starting point for parents: Don’t worry about teaching reading. Just read.

If you just read with your child and have normal conversations from time to time, without ever interrupting or interfering with the natural reading process, and without asking question after question, both you and your child will realize how easy, rewarding and beneficial this process actually is. 

Here are some basic steps to make that happen:

Empathize with your child’s struggle while providing some basic guidance before opening the book.

Reading isn’t easy. Even adults find themselves “reading,” with eyes following along the lines of text, flipping page after page while the minutes pass, only to realize they have no idea what happened on the pages they were supposedly reading. I call this the “passive eye shift.” Our fingers and eyes are moving, but either our brains are off in “La La Land” or we are too busy visualizing something we read earlier in the book to actually focus on the text we’re trying to read at the moment. It may have even happened to you just now while reading this article.

This is completely normal. Everyone experiences it. I’m a voracious reader, and I do it every time I read, whether I’m reading a hilarious work or fiction or an article on cognitive neuroscience.  I want you to talk about these little “blips” with your children. I want you to let them know that not only do lots of kids experience these struggles when reading, but adults do as well. 

Your child doesn’t need to feel like a failure, but chances are, if he or she is failing those reading comprehension questions from boring passages at school, that ship has already sailed. You can reverse course by empathizing with your child’s struggle, and providing some guidance before you open the book in the first place.

Implement a hands-off plan of action for dealing with challenging words.

There’s no point in constantly correcting a child or explaining things while he or she is reading. It is extremely distracting. Adults don’t like to be interrupted while reading, so what makes us think kids are cool with it? And we wonder why kids can’t answer comprehension questions after we’ve interrupted them 386 times while reading the passage in the first place.

Start by making sure your child plays a major role in choosing an engaging book to read with you. If your child thinks the book is too challenging or boring, don’t argue about it; just let him or her choose a new book. Then, let your child know that when encountering a really tough word, he or she should just say “blank” instead of trying to say the tricky word, and you’ll deal with the pronunciation and definition together later. Once the child has finished the chapter or is at a good stopping point in the story, you two can start sounding out the word and using context clues or the dictionary or Internet to figure out its meaning.

Let your child know that it impresses you when he or she voluntarily re-reads a particular section.

There are plenty of times when kids (and adults) need to reread a sentence, paragraph—or in my case, an entire chapter—if we engage in the passive eye shift, or if the section is boring or challenging. A tremendous amount of our comprehension comes not from our initial reading of a passage, but from the times we have to re-read sections that we believed were important but on which we didn’t quite focus hard enough.

Teachers often have to force kids to re-read; kids tend not to do it voluntarily. If you let your child know that voluntary rereading impresses you and you express joy when they do so, you’ll see wild growth in their comprehension skills. The fact is that kids want to impress the adults in their lives. It is just downright unfair that the primary way kids think they can impress adults is through great performance on tests. 

Make it easier for your child to impress you. Show your excitement during little victories (small improvements, a smoothly read sentence, voluntary re-reading, etc.), but don’t go overboard. Compliments should be just enough to reinforce the action to the child, but not so much that the child thinks the only reason to perform the action is for the reward or parental excitement that follows. 

We live in a society so obsessed with standardized testing that many of our basic instructional practices (like those boring reading comprehension passages) end up being nothing more than glorified tests. Struggling readers don’t need more tests. They need instruction, empathy and engaging reading materials.

As a parent, you can balance out the evaluation and testing overload your child experiences at school with a safe, assessment-free reading environment at home. The laid-back, hands-off, empathetic approach outlined in this article will ensure that your child starts to feel some success with reading, a fundamental step in boosting comprehension and nurturing great readers.


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